In recent years, meditation has become increasingly popular. The general public has embraced it, making it a wellness activity that almost everyone talks about. However, meditation, its techniques, and its objectives are often little known. An excellent reason to look into the subject.
Would you like to try this practice with its many health benefits? It’s an excellent decision: meditation is easy to learn and has many positive effects on both the mind and the body. However, it is important to follow a clear and reliable method.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a mental practice that comes from Eastern spiritualities. It consists in fixing the mind on an object, a word, a sensation, or an emotion. A centering exercise, it is used today mainly as a well-being practice.
Meditation: Principles And Operation.
Meditation has many benefits for the body and the mind. Originally, it is a spiritual practice, adopted by Buddhist monks, but also by the yogis of India.
The most famous meditator is undoubtedly the Buddha, but he is not the inventor of the practice. Still, we all have in mind images of Buddhas sitting in lotus or great masters absorbed in their meditation.
The objective of this tutorial is obviously not to make you a Zen master, but rather to allow you to benefit from the advantages of a technique that is thousands of years old:
- Become more self-confident.
- Escape from negative thoughts, which we tend to ruminate in a loop.
- Stop the incessant flow of thoughts, which causes dispersion.
In everyday life, meditation also helps to relax, better manage stress and sleep, and more easily master anxiety-producing situations.
However, as a beginner, one is generally confronted with a series of questions:
- How do I get started?
- What posture should I adopt?
- What should I pay attention to?
- How do I know if I am practicing correctly?
As we have said, meditation is about centering your mind, so that you can escape the flow of stimuli in your daily life. Nowadays, this includes both the constant noise and the constant solicitations, whether they come from our professional environment, from our relatives, or from our circle of friends.
The multiplication of screens (TV, smartphones, tablets, etc.) and sources of information tend to atomize our experience and our thinking is dispersed. This experience is not new, since Buddha already noticed the phenomenon. But the digitalization of our environment tends to make it more intense.
Meditation is therefore a remedy to dispersion, which allows us to find calm and serenity. The practice allows us to turn inward and create a space of calm, just for us and to meet our inner self.
In the 1960s, many Buddhist meditators arrived in the West, particularly in the United States. They are at the origin of the popularity of meditation. But it is mainly Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn who contributed to the success of the practice, by detaching it from its spiritual dimension.
Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn invented mindfulness meditation in 1979, in an approach that closely links meditative practice to stress reduction and therapeutic approach.
I wanted to share with my patients the benefits I had experienced myself,” explains this doctor in an interview. Their profound effects, in relation to physical health and health of the heart, mind, and spirit, were clear to me.
Jon Kabat Zinn had been touched by the teachings of the Buddhist master Seung Sahn in the 1970s, to the point of integrating what he had learned into his daily life, but also to draw from it a new therapeutic approach.
But let’s go back briefly to the foundations of the practice, with the story of the Buddha’s awakening. The story takes place in India, in ancient times. Anxious to escape the suffering he discovered in the world around him, Prince Shakyamuni left his palace and family to join ascetics.
But he quickly recognizes that this practice does not bring him what he is looking for. He then decides to sit under a majestic tree, the Bodhi tree and vows not to leave his lotus position until he reaches enlightenment. The position itself is important and we will come back to it in the following tutorial.
Learn To Meditate In 7 Steps.
Let’s get down to the basics: how to meditate and, most importantly, how to get started with the best of luck. Many people are tempted by meditation, but when they do not apply the right methods, they often get bored, as they do not get the expected results.
If you have been thinking of stone-cold Indian yogis, forget about those preconceived notions. Meditation can look like that, or like a Buddha statue in a lotus unless you think of Zen monks meditating against a wall.
But meditation can also be practiced while you are working, cooking, walking in the forest, or talking to another person.
The time before falling asleep and the time immediately after waking up are considered very good times by some experienced meditators because the mind is not yet (or no longer) in the grip of every day worries.
A more formal sitting meditation may be necessary during the learning process. Thereafter, it is simply possible to meditate anywhere, in any position, and in any situation.
Step 1: Choose A Place To Meditate.
Choose the place where you want to meditate. Make sure it is quiet and clean. Choose a place that is pleasant, that you enjoy and where you feel comfortable. Don’t hesitate to try out different places. You should want to spend some time there each day.
You can bring some accessories, but they are not mandatory. They are only an aid. An accomplished meditator does not need them, a beginner can find valuable support.
- A mat that is soft and thick enough to keep your legs from hurting (e.g. a foam gym mat).
- A small Buddha statue to inspire you.
- A candle.
- A Tibetan bowl (the sound marks the beginning of the meditation and helps to awaken the attention).
- Meditation music (possibly to cover a noisy environment).
- An inspirational text (or mantra).
- Soft, comfortable clothing that does not constrict the abdomen.
Tip: In general, it is best to keep the location uncluttered and simple. The goal is to come back to oneself and minimize external interactions.
Step 2: Make Sure It Is Quiet.
Before you start meditating, make sure the place is quiet. Define the duration of your meditation session. Turn off all external stimuli:
- Turn off your phone.
- Close the door and make sure you are not disturbed.
- Make sure that all the accessories you will need are within easy reach.
- Ritualize your meditation session: choose a time, a duration, a place, and practice with regularity.
Tip: Remember the Buddha’s vow not to get up until you have reached enlightenment. You are obviously not going to impose this kind of constraint on yourself, but you can make a contract with yourself about the length and regularity of your practice. 15 to 20 minutes is a reasonable option to start with.
Step 3: The Meditation Position.
You need to find a reasonable balance between hardness and softness for your meditation mat. Your support should not be too hard, you would be in pain, but it should not be too soft either, as it would not bring enough stability to the posture.
Afterward, nothing prevents you from meditating in bed, but it is not recommended during the learning phase!
The traditional position of the meditator is in lotus. However, this posture is difficult for western anatomy. A half-lotus, as practiced in some yoga postures, may be appropriate. You can also simply sit cross-legged, or with your back straight on a chair, if you can’t stand the sitting position.
The lotus is supposed to promote the flow of energies and therefore act on the chakras. But, as we have seen, this traditional position is not a necessity. One of its interests is to keep the back straight and to give a stable seat.
Tip: A meditation cushion, which raises the buttocks, can be of great help. Any hard cushion will do, but you can also invest in a zafu, a traditional meditation cushion
Step 4: Importance Of The Meditation Posture.
Try to adopt an upright posture. A straight back causes the chest to open, allowing you to breathe freely and unfold the flow of energy. Do not compress the breath.
You simply let your arms fall freely into your lap and place your hands together. Thumbs point to each other. The head looks vaguely straight ahead.
This hand position is actually a mudra. This is a symbolic position, which is used by yogis or Buddhist meditators. The important thing for you is to be comfortable. This position of the hands, one palm in the other, placed in the hollow of your thighs, contributes to stability and relaxation.
The right meditation posture is a balance that comes naturally with experience: it is a compromise between the contraction needed to keep the back straight and the relaxation.
Tip: Buddhist meditators are used to compare the tension of the body to that of a violin string. Only if the tension is right, neither too much nor too little, will the sound reach perfection.
Step 5: The Beginning Of The Meditation.
At the beginning of your session, you will need to achieve the meditative state that allows you to focus on yourself and detach from external stimuli. This step can take varying amounts of time, depending on your ability to relax and your expertise in meditation.
You can close your eyes to help you focus, but this is not required. You can meditate with your eyes open, in which case you can focus your attention on the Buddha statue or the candle flame. Meditators usually have their eyes half-closed.
To concentrate, you can either:
- Recite a mantra (an inspirational phrase that you have chosen).
- Repeat your mantra several times.
- Or practice attention to the breath.
Attention to the breath: focus your attention on the place at the base of the nose where the breath passes. Feel the flow of the air, the cold sensation when it enters, the hot sensation when it leaves.
Step 6: Meditation Itself.
Meditation occurs when one is well centered on the breath. One should feel relaxation and a sense of well-being. The mind should not think about anything else. In the beginning, it is a matter of getting out of the mental model of operation and settling in the body.
Now feel your breath slowly entering and leaving your body. Feel how your belly expands when you breathe in and contracts again when you breathe out. This helps you to focus on the present moment and calm your mind.
Tip: Don’t block out thoughts. Meditation is the opposite of restraint. You need to feel yourself in the meditative flow. After a while, thoughts will arise. It is not a matter of feeling guilty, but simply of becoming aware of them and letting them, as the meditation masters say, dissolve naturally.
Step 7: Conclude The Meditation.
You can set an alarm clock at the beginning to know when the 20 minutes are up. In our opinion, this is rather counterproductive. Don’t get fixated on the time. If you can’t stay still, move on to the conclusion and try to gradually increase the duration of the practice over the days.
But above all, don’t jump out of bed, you will cancel out all the benefits of your meditation. This is a reflex that modern life has taught us. Meditation frees you from your conditioning. Take the time to assess what has happened. Assess your state of mind and how you feel in your body.
You can end with a mantra.
The goal is to keep your new energy and positive state of mind for as long as possible and to use it in your daily routine.
Tip: Need to recharge during the day? Don’t hesitate to sit down on a chair and practice a mini-meditation session, to refocus yourself.
The Different Types Of Meditation.
There are countless variations in meditation techniques. But it must be kept in mind that these are only techniques and that the ultimate goal is to meditate without these crutches.
Zen mediation, for example, is very austere, just like this spiritual tradition. You meditate in Zazen, and a monk comes to stimulate the energies by tapping your shoulder on a specific spot if you fall asleep.
Some meditations use relaxing music in the background: this is a modern tradition, but it can be helpful in a noisy environment or if you have trouble with silence.
Other practices involve reciting mantras on a loop. The effect is the same as practicing mindfulness of the breath.
Walking meditation is used by Buddhist meditators to relax the body when practicing for long hours. It is a slow walk, where you are aware of each step. The slow movements take the place of attention to the breath.
This tutorial is not meant to be exhaustive, but to give you a few tips on how to start meditation. You will have less tendency to cling to ready-made representations, not always relevant.
But before we leave, I would like to point out the three biggest mistakes that beginners make in meditation:
1. They try to block thoughts.
2. They force themselves to meditate in the lotus position when their body is hurting.
3. They try to force meditation instead of letting it happen.
Never forget that meditation is all about letting go! This is the only way to achieve physical well-being and mental balance.